18 December 2002, Khartoum/Nairobi --A barge loaded with fishing gear is currently steaming its way along the Sobat River towards the suffering population in southern Sudan.

Following a ceasefire agreement reached in Kenya last month between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), the UN and other humanitarian organizations have been able to reach previously inaccessible war-torn areas.

"For the first time in several years, FAO is now entering these areas and will be able to reach 58 000 people, among the most vulnerable in southern Sudan," said Marc Bellemans, FAO's Emergency Coordinator in Khartoum.

The barge set off from Malakal in the Upper Nile Province on 4 December. On its way to Nasir close to the Ethiopian border, it will unload fishing gear, including nets, ropes and hooks along with seeds and tools for 27 villages. The barge is jointly used by FAO and the World Food Programme.

For many years, this war-torn part of southern Sudan has been very unsafe. Now the region has become a priority for emergency interventions for the UN and other humanitarian organizations.

High rates of malnutrition

In government-controlled areas of southern Sudan, such as the area along the Sobat river, average malnutrition rates are around 20 percent.

"We estimate that around 10 percent of the families along this stretch of the river will receive fishing gear. This will help them to improve their food situation and should contribute to reducing malnutrition. It will also make them less dependant on food aid", Bellemans said.

Southern Sudan, with its wetlands and rivers, has important natural fish resources. Subsistence fishing contributes significantly to improving food supply. Malnutrition rates decreased overall where fishing equipment has been distributed, FAO said.

Once the barge has completed its journey by the end of December, FAO will have distributed 90 000 hooks, 3 500 nylon fishing coils, 155 ropes, tools and around 500 kg of vegetable seeds for around 7 000 families. Community animal health workers will receive veterinary drugs.

Canada, Japan and Sweden have provided support for the project.

For 2003, FAO has launched a $19 million aid appeal for Sudan to assist the most vulnerable people to produce their own food. No pledges have been made so far, the UN agency said.



Contact:

Marc Bellemans,
Emergency Coordinator Khartoum/Sudan
tce-kharthoum@fao.org
(+249) 11 787 569

Victoria Engstrand-Neacsu,
Communication Officer, Kenya
vengstrand@faonairobi.or.ke
(+254) 2 272 91 60 / 272 51 28